Proving once again that there is sometimes a major disconnect between public perception and internal evaluation, the Calgary Flames held a press conference Monday to assess what went wrong in an underachieving 2009-10 season, and guess what?
Apparently almost all is well in Calgary's world. President Ken King noted that 97 per cent of season-ticket holders have put down deposits to renew for next season; that the team turned a profit, even after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03; and that general manager Darryl Sutter's overall work, notwithstanding this year's little hiccup, has been exemplary.
King began by stating how "gravely disappointed" he was that the team missed the playoffs, then quickly skipped ahead to all that they've accomplished since Sutter joined the organization.
The much anticipated top-to-bottom organizational review will go ahead, but since King and Sutter are masterminding it, it doesn't sound as if the jobs of either are in jeopardy.
"There has been a great number of rumours and speculation in the media and online, and I want to clarify that none of those rumours and none of that speculation have emanated from our organization," King said. "Darryl and I hold the responsibility for our reviews. We hold the responsibility for our successes and we hold the responsibility for our challenges and setbacks. We're mindful of that.
"Please understand that rumours and speculation are not fact, and if you want the facts, we're here to help you."
The pair then spent the next 52 minutes parrying with reporters and revealing those "facts."
Apparently the competition was tough, luck wasn't on their side and, yes, the best players weren't the best players and need to return to previous scoring levels. If that happens, the team is poised for a rebound, Sutter suggested.
Sutter revealed that the game plan was to stay competitive, as opposed to adopting a rebuilding program. Nor does Sutter intend to trade away another core player, for salary cap or other reasons. The team's primary failing, he said, was its poor home record (20-17-4). Fix that and everything else will fall into place.
"To remain competitive and to stay competitive is not as easy as one might think," said Sutter, who hinted that friction in the dressing room may have led to a couple of pre-Olympic deals in which Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Olli Jokinen to the New York Rangers.
Sutter also noted that had Calgary played in the Eastern Conference, the Flames would have finished seventh and made the playoffs.
"That tells you what parity in the league is," Sutter said.
In short, the disenchanted fan base had to content itself with hearing the same old blah, blah, blah - words that are starting to sound hollow.
Internally the Flames saw themselves as a contender for the division crown as a bare minimum, and engineered a series of off-season moves designed to get them past the opening playoff round.
Instead, everything backfired. Even after the extensive dollars spent on a new coach (Brent Sutter), a new elite defenceman (Jay Bouwmeester) and a lot of underachieving new faces (Matt Stajan, Ales Kotalik), the team is worse off than it was a year ago.
There has been a great deal of clamour for Darryl Sutter's head as a result, but King, who has hitched his wagon to Sutter's vision, said he would not make a change just to appease any dissatisfied members of the ticket-buying public.
"If it is necessary to sacrifice somebody to sell tickets, then they'll have to get somebody else to sell tickets," King said.